This is Kandipara – one of Bangladesh’s estimated 20 legal brothel “villages”, with approximately 400 sex workers employed within its mildewed pink and green concrete walls.
There’s a circular bruise blossoming on the right hand side of 19-year-old Rupa Begum’s cheek, and she’s working hard to cover it. Gently, she smears pale concealer over her face with her fingertips and blends it into the skin.
She checks her reflection in a small turquoise mirror, and breaks into a smile. “Now nobody can tell anything happened,” she says, sitting back on her faded floral bedspread. “When the next customer comes, he doesn’t want to see what the last one did to me.”
It’s 9.30am on a Tuesday morning, and outside Rupa’s windowless bedroom, the Bangladeshi brothel corridors are already thick with the smell of spices and sweat.
Men of all ages in stained polo-shirts and traditionally knotted ‘lunghi’ elbow each other out the way as they make their way through the maze of brightly-painted concrete alleyways and narrow streets to find their chosen girl and hand over 200 taka [£1.75] for ten minutes of sexual activity before work.
According to Bangladeshi law, everyone employed by the brothel is supposed to be over 18 and in possession of a State Magistrate issued license that declares they’re fully prepared to work in prostitution.
But clamber past the crowds of wide-eyed girls squatting on red plastic buckets by the entrance to step inside, and you hear a different story. It’s thought that at least 10 per cent of men in Bangladesh will pay for sex in their lifetimes, but out of 375 sex workers surveyed on behalf of Girls Not Brides across four such brothels in Bangladesh last year, 47 per cent were former child brides, trafficked into prostitution against their will.
Once inside the brothels, they’re imprisoned – held captive until they can save up enough money to buy their freedom, and vulnerable to violence, disease and psychological abuse.
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